University of Wisconsin Madison College of Engineering
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Today, both workers and management are concerned about the quality of work lives, ergonomics and occupational safety and health. New developments such as information and communication technologies and specialized work requiring repetitive tasks add up to a need for human factors engineering. By examining, designing, testing and evaluating the workplace and how people interact in it, human factors engineers can create productive, safe and satisfying work environments.



Faculty, Human Factors and Ergonomics specialization


Robert Radwin  — Convenor


Core faculty


Patricia Flatley Brennan
Pascale Carayon
John Lee 
Gregg Vanderheiden
Douglas Wiegmann


Affiliate faculty


Bilge Mutlu
David Noyce
Mary Sesto


Emeriti faculty


David Gustafson
Michael Smith
David Zimmerman



Program requirements

Advising information [PDF]



Multidisciplinary approach to multifaceted problems


This program has three sub-specialty areas leading to the MS and PhD degrees in industrial and systems engineering. Specialty areas include sociotechnical systems, ergonomics, and occupational and environmental safety and health.


Sociotechnical Systems


Organizational issues such as management approaches, job design, participative problem solving, psychological stress, job satisfaction, performance effectiveness, product/service quality, and quality of work life are addressed by engineers specializing in sociotechnical methods in system design. These engineers may study interaction between people in complex technical and organizational environments, or address appropriate ways of motivating people to work productively and safely. Examining such areas requires diverse knowledge of technology, social systems and organizational behavior as well as synthesis, design and implementation skills. Sociotechnical engineers are trained in psychology, sociology, business, statistics and engineering science in order to address these problems.




Ergonomics is the study of the principles of work. Ergonomists are concerned with the complex physical relationships between people, machines, job demands and work methods. A prime emphasis is on preventing musculoskeletal injuries in the workplace. These injuries create significant cost to industry in the form of medical bills, worker's compensation, reduced productivity and lost time. Prevention of injuries is accomplished by understanding biomechanics and the physiology of work, and through the use of biomechanical models, laboratory simulations, field studies and job analyses.


Ergonomists also consider human reliability, psychomotor capabilities and human characteristics in equipment design, work quality and assessment of skill. An important aspect of equipment design is human-computer interaction.


Human factors engineers are also concerned about providing people with physical and mental impairments access to the workplace through technology and rehabilitation engineering. Engineers concerned with human performance often work in diverse areas including space robotics, aviation systems, rescue operations and manufacturing.


Occupational Safety and Health


Occupational safety and health engineers study accident causation, epidemiology, statistical modeling of injuries, analysis of health records, injury prevention, and legal aspects of occupational safety. They are concerned with environmental factors such as noise, vibration, illumination, radiation and temperature. These engineers work in manufacturing, utilities, chemical processing industries, healthcare industry, construction industry, and government. Occupational and environmental safety and health engineers are trained in public health, epidemiology, statistics and engineering science.


The demand for engineers who can combine a concern for the human component with traditional engineering principles is great. Some examples of work performed by human factors engineers include:


  • Designing work systems, processes and workstations that prevent injuries and cumulative trauma disorders.

  • Designing human-computer interfaces that are logical and user friendly, and reducing operator errors.

  • Managing the implementation of major technological and/or organizational change.

  • Motivating people to work safely.

  • Devising jobs that are satisfying and minimize mental stress.

  • Designing manufacturing systems that maximize quality and productivity while taking human limitations into account.



MSIE, Human Factors and Ergonomics specialization



MSIE, Human Factors and Ergonomics Specialization[PDF]


Human factors and Ergonomics MS students take courses in three areas of concentration. These are ergonomics, occupational safety and health, and sociotechnical systems.



PhD, Human Factors and Ergonomics specialization


Recent dissertation titles in human factors engineering include the following:


  • A Longitudinal Study of the Process & Content of a Participatory Work Organization Intervention

  • Physical Stress Measurements for Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders Using Video-Based Continuous Biomechanical Data Acquisition and Interactive Exposure Analysis

  • A Case-Control Study of Medication Use and Occupational Injury

  • Effect of Work Conditions on VDT Workers' Health & Productivity: A Longitudinal Intervention Field Study in a Service Organization



Laboratories and research centers


Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement (Carayon)


It is widely recognized that quality is fundamental to achieving long-term success. A renewed focus on customers and processes sets the stage for continuous improvement for industry, government, educational institutions, healthcare, and businesses. All have benefited from higher quality and productivity as well as reduced time and cost to develop, produce and deliver products and services, and improved safety. Data-based total quality methods are the catalyst to help people achieve these benefits.

To rise to the challenge of the international quality revolution, the CQPI was founded in October of 1985 by Professor George E.P. Box and the late Professor William G. Hunter. Since its inception, CQPI has been at the forefront in the development of new techniques for improving the quality of products and processes. Today, the Center is also at the forefront of methods aimed at improving the quality of work processes, working life, healthcare.


The mission of the Center is to create, integrate, and transfer knowledge to improve the quality and performance of industrial, service, governmental, healthcare, educational, social, and other organizations.


The vision of the Center is to excel in the creation, development, and integration of knowledge through research on theories, concepts, and methodologies of quality and productivity measurement, management and improvement, innovation and organizational change.


Areas of expertise in quality engineering are, quality management, quality improvement in healthcare, safety applications and research, and quality of working life, human factors and ergonomics.


Major research support has come from the National Science Foundation, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the UW Graduate School, the State of Wisconsin, and private industry.


Cognitive Systems Laboratory (Lee)


The Cognitive Systems Laboratory (CSL) focuses on cognitive engineering, where the challenge is to understand and improve the capacity of joint human-technology systems. This research has considered technology insertion in the maritime industry, ground transportation, tele-operation, and process control. A specific example is the distraction potential of in-vehicle information systems, such as cellular telephones and e-mail. Another example is the role of trust and appropriate reliance in the supervisory control of automation, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In each of these examples, the ultimate goal is to develop computational models of human performance and design principles that can support effective and humane use of technology.


The common theme of understanding how technology mediates peoples' attention integrates CSL's research across the varied research domains of maritime navigation, process control, and driving. Technology-mediated attention builds upon the basic psychological concepts of attention to understand how technology must be shaped so that people attend to the right thing at the right time and respond appropriately. An understanding of how technology can mediate attention is used to create display and control systems that enable people to work effectively with increasingly sophisticated technology.


Students in the CSL learn how to conduct experiments in microworld and simulator environments. They also learn techniques of computational cognitive engineering to model joint human-technology behavior, estimate the state of the operator, and to enhance data interpretation.


Naturalistic Decision Making and Simulation Laboratory (Wiegmann)


The Naturalistic Decision Making & Simulation Lab covers a broad spectrum of research interests, primarily within the aviation and health care industries. Some recent areas of study include interruptions and distractions during surgery, simulated flight training, and cognitive ergonomics for universal design.


Occupational Ergonomics and Biomechanics Laboratory (Radwin)


Research in the Occupational Ergonomics and Biomechanics Laboratory focuses on health aspects of physical stress in the workplace. This work includes prevention and detection of work related musculoskeletal disorders; developing measurement and analytical methods for assessing exposure to physical stress in the workplace; understanding ergonomic aspects of the design, selection, installation and use of manually operated equipment; and quantifying functional deficits associated with musculoskeletal disorders and peripheral neuropathies.


The lab is equipped with a variety of transducers and instruments for measuring human kinetics and kinematics, optical motion analysis, physiological indices and biopotentials. In addition to an electromagnetic vibration generation and measurement system, occupational activities are simulated for conducting research to better understand how to design jobs and equipment in which people play a significant role, so that human capabilities are maximized, physical stress is minimized, and workload is optimized.


Trace Research and Development Center (Vanderheiden)


The Trace Research and Development Center is part of the UW-Madison College of Engineering. Founded in 1971, Trace has been a pioneer in the field of technology and disability. The Trace Center is currently working on ways to make standard information technologies and telecommunications systems more accessible and usable by people with disabilities.


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